August 16: 1 Corinthians 1:10

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16

In connection with to the current study series, in which I examine the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament (esp. in the Pauline letters), I have decided to explore, in some detail, Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. This passage (and the wider division of 1:18-4:21) includes several of the key references where musth/rion is used (2:1, 7; 4:1), where it is central to the overall argument. This next series of daily notes will be looking at various phrases and expressions which Paul uses to develop his argument. The difficult and richly textured passage is, in my opinion, often poorly understood; and, as a result, the thrust of Paul’s line of argument in the letter, as well as the basic historical (and theological) context, is not always appreciated. It is hoped that these notes will shed some light on what is one of the more essential sections in the New Testament (outside of the Gospels).

To begin with, it is useful to consider the epistolary (and rhetorical) structure of 1 Corinthians (here I follow the outline provided by Witherington, pp. 75-77, with which I generally agree):

    • 1:1-3—The epistolary prescript, that is, the opening of the letter, which includes the initial greeting (vv. 1-2) and blessing (v. 3)
    • 1:4-9—The introduction to the letter (exordium), which, in many of Paul’s letters, functions primarily as a thanksgiving, offering thanks to God and praise for the faithfulness, etc., of the believers
      (in Corinth).
    • 1:10—This verse contains the basic proposition (propositio) or statement/thesis which will be addressed in the letter.
    • 1:11-17—The narratio, in which the basic ‘facts’ of the case are narrated; in Paul’s letters this often has an important (auto)biographical component. Verse 11 states the main reason or cause (causa) for his writing.
    • 1:1816:12—The bulk of the letter, which can be delineated several ways, is the probatio, or “proof”, whereby various arguments and illustrations are presented in support of the main proposition. Unlike the shorter letter to the Galatians (or even the larger letter to the Romans), 1 Corinthians does not have a tightly argued and balanced structure. Only the first section, 1:184:21, deals with the central proposition (1:10ff) directly. The remainder of the letter illustrates the point in principle, as Paul addresses specific issues of importance to the life and functioning of the congregations in Corinth.
    • 16:13-18—The peroratio, or close of the argument, with an exhortation to the hearers/readers. This relates primarily to vv. 13-14, with vv. 15-18 perhaps being more aligned with the conclusion (greeting) that follows.
    • 16:19-24—The epistolary postscript, or close to the letter, with final greeting(s) and blessing.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Here is the proposition (propositio) of 1 Corinthians from 1:10:

“I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you all should give account (to) the same (thing), and (that) there should not be splits [i.e. divisions] in/among you, but (that) you should be fit (together completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

Several points can be made:

The initial verb (parakalw=) functions as an exhortation (and injunction) to the believers whom he is addressing. Literally, it means “I call you alongside”, but in English idiom we might rather say “I call on you” (i.e. I urge you). The phrase “through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ}” is important as it governs both what precedes and what follows:

    • Paul’s call to the Corinthians is done “through the name” of Jesus—i.e. in his role as (inspired) apostle
    • The Corinthians’ unity should take place “through the name” of Jesus—the essential identity of Christians being “in Christ”

In a concrete grammatical sense, by going “through” (dia/) the name of Jesus (“our Lord”, the basis of our religious identity), we see clearly the goal and idea of the unity of believers in Christ. Note the structure:

    • You should all (pa/nte$) give account to the same (thing)
      —there should not be splits in you
      —you should be fit (together completely)
    • in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing

The three primary verbs all are subjunctive forms, indicating the wish of how things should be. The outer statement emphasizes that believers should say and think the same thing, marked by the adjectival (intensive) use of the personal pronoun au)to[$] (“he/it”), which is nearly impossible to render literally in English. I translate the verb le/gw in the (more literal) sense of “give (ac)count”—this can refer to any sort of speaking/saying, but it specifically relates to the Gospel message (i.e. the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”). As will become clear in Paul’s argument, unity in speech and thought is (to be) achieved fundamentally by focusing on the Gospel message. The emphasis on “mind” (nou=$) and “knowing” (gnw/mh) likewise foreshadows the line of argument running through 1:18-4:21 and throughout the letter. The ‘inner’ statement indicated above sets a clear contrast:

    • Negative: “there should not be [mh\ h@|] splits in you”
    • Positive: “you should be [h@te] fit (together completely)”

The word sxi/smata is typically translated “divisions”, but the contrast relates more to the idea of “splits” or “tears” (as in a garment), which is also a somewhat more literal rendering. These “splits” (which are discussed initially in vv. 11f), are set against the concept of believers being fit or joined (together), using the verb katarti/zw (an intensive compound of a)rti/zw). The perfect tense (perfect participle) of this verb is used, suggesting a situation or condition which has already taken place and continues in the present. Paul is essentially saying that the Corinthians ought to be acting as they truly are (in Christ)—united together, like a single untorn garment. Interestingly, the verb katarti/zw can also carry the sense of adjusting or repairing something (i.e. mending a garment), which certainly fits the context as well. Paul does not follow up particularly on this metaphor of the garment elsewhere in the letter; rather, he utilizes the images of the building/house and (human) body as symbols of unity.

The next note will look at the closing statement of the narratio (in v. 17), which leads into the section 1:18-2:16.

Above “Witherington” = Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Eerdmans: 1995)

July 18: Galatians 3:26-29

This note provides a more detailed analysis of Galatians 3:26-29 (spec. vv. 27-28), the verses which conclude the argument of Gal 3:15-29 (on this, see the article on “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”). The overall section is an argument from Scripture regarding God’s promise to Abraham; it is important to follow closely Paul’s line of reasoning, noting especially the careful manner in which he identifies traditional (ethno-religious) aspects of Jewish identity with believers (Jew and Gentile) in Christ. There can be no doubt that Jews would have found such a transferred application as unacceptable, even offensive; Jewish Christians may have found difficulty with it as well. Even today, for somewhat different reasons, well-meaning (and culturally sensitive) Christians are reluctant to use any terminology which suggests that Christianity replaces Israel/Judaism in God’s order of things. This issue will be touched on at the end of the exposition, below.

Verses 26 and 29 bracket this section with a pair of related, parallel statements:

    • Basic statement (v. 26)—”You are all sons through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
    • Recapitulation (v. 29)—”If you are of (the) Anointed, then you are {the seed/heirs}…”

The statement of v. 29 differs in two respects: (1) it is conditional (“if [ei)]…”), and (2) Paul uses a pair of traditional Israelite/Jewish expressions which qualify believers as “sons”:

In between, we have vv. 27-28, which may well reflect a (pre-Pauline) baptismal formula; in any case, the statement in v. 28 is clearly tied to the ritual of baptism, as similar formulations in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11 would indicate (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 181-4). The (traditional) language and imagery has already become standard in these early passages, as the phrasing in v. 27 suggests:

“For as many of you as have been dipped/dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed [ei)$ Xristo\n], you have sunk in(to) [e)nedu/sasqe] (the) Anointed”

    • Identification of the symbolic ritual
      —dipped/dunked into Christ
    • with being clothed, i.e. initiation rites
      —sunk in(to) Christ, as into (i.e. putting on) a garment

While largely foreign to Western culture today, this (ancient, mystical) language of initiation is important in several respects:

    • It prefigures and anticipates (future) death and judgment before God.
    • It establishes and confirms for the believer/initiate a present reality and experience of future blessedness (with God)—for early Christianity the emphasis was more on salvation than beatitude/blessedness (but note, esp. the Beatitudes of Jesus [on these, cf. my earlier series]).
    • This reality and experience is understood primarily in terms of religious (and spiritual) identity. The removal of clothing (i.e. the old self/nature) to enter the water, followed by the application of new clothing (such as a clean white garment), concretely symbolizes the realization of this new nature.

In verse 28, Paul concisely and dramatically describes the effect of the ritual—that is, the formulation of this new identity. He does this first with a series of negative propositions (likely using traditional language):

ou)k e&ni “in (Christ) there is no”… (the negative particle ou)k is emphasized—”there is no…”)

—”no Jew and no [ou)de\] Greek”
—”no slave and no [ou)de\] free (person)”
—”no male and [kai\] female”

Then this is summarized under a single positive statement:

“For you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
pa/nte$ ga\r u(mei=$ ei!$ e)ste e)n Xristw=|  )Ihsou=

This compact formula includes three themes which are central to Paul’s theology, and which are emphasized throughout Galatians:

    1. “All” (pa/nte$)—that is, all believers without distinction, socio-religious status, etc., and especially with no distinction between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).
    2. “One” (ei!$)—this unity/oneness is a vital theme in Galatians, though this may not be so obvious from a casual reading—there is only one Gospel (Gal 1:6-7; 2:5), one promised seed (Gal 3:16), parallel to the one Spirit (Gal 3:14; 5:22).
    3. “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—this is the climactic expression and is central to Paul’s thinking: the new identity (and unity) of believers is in Christ—cf. Gal 1:22; 2:4, 16-17; 3:14, 26; 5:6, and often throughout the other letters.

A difficult point of interpretation in verse 28 is the precise force of the three negative propositions—how literally should one take these, and how do they apply in practice? It is not possible to deal with this enormous socio-religious question here; I would only state that the tendency has been to limit or qualify Paul’s statements, by reason, practical necessity, and comparison with other passages in his letters, especially in regard to biological (gender) distinction (“male and female”). This, I fear, turns the thrust of Paul’s statement in Galatians rather upon its head. First, it must be recognized that Paul states clearly here that the old natural and social categories do not apply to the new identity in Christ, according to three representative examples:

    • Ethno-religious: Jew/Greek
    • Socio-economic status: Slave/Free
    • Socio-biological distinction: Male and Female

Churches and commentators today can accept the elimination of the first two distinctions much more easily than the third, especially since Paul himself appears to apply it inconsistently—if the Jew/Greek and Slave/Free distinctions do not (apparently) have any effect in terms of the role and status of believers in the Christian community, how can the Male/Female distinction continue to be observed (as Paul instructs, in various ways, both in the undisputed and disputed letters)? This is a most pointed (and relevant) question for churches in our society today, and one which ought to be studied and grappled with fairly, objectively, and without prejudice, in the spirit of the very unity Paul declares in vv. 27-28. That Paul may intend the Male/Female distinction as a special case is, perhaps, indicated by the slight variation in formula:

    • “There is in (Christ) no Jew and no [ou)de\] Greek” (similar for Slave/Free)
    • “There is in (Christ) no ‘Male and [kai\] Female'”

It would seem that he is not so much eliminating a socio-biological distinction as the existent duality (i.e. the distinct role and status in society and the community). If so, it would be a strong argument against the approach taken (and/or retained) by many traditional-conservative churches and groups, in relation to the role of women in the Church. However, we ought to be cautious about reading too much into this difference in the text. Either way, I would fully affirm, in the words of commentator F. F. Bruce (The Epistle to the Galatians [NIGTC] 1982, p. 190), that any apparent or supposed restrictions on the roles of women in the other Pauline epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 14:34f; 1 Tim 2:11f) “are to be understood in relation to Gal 3:28, and not vice versa“.

If we should re-examine vv. 26-29 as a whole, in light of the preceding analysis, it seems clear that Paul is actually making three statements regarding religious identity:

V. 26: “You are all sons (of God) through trust in Christ
V. 27-28: “You are all one in Christ” (symbolized through the ritual of baptism)
V. 29: “If you are of Christ…” (this last being conditional, according to the first two statements, cf. above)

This brings us back to the concluding statement of verse 29, where the new identity (which is of/in Christ) is identified with the old (and distinct) ethno-religious identity of Israel/Judaism—the seed/heirs of Abraham, including God’s promise (and blessing) to him. This conclusion to Paul’s argument would seem to make clear that this traditional Jewish religious identity and understanding actually applies only to believers (the ones trusting) in Christ. As hard as it might be for people (naturally) to accept, the old ethno-religious distinction no longer applies. However, while this idea is clear and definite enough in Galatians, Paul has given the entire matter a somewhat different (more expansive and nuanced) treatment in Romans. There will be cause to refer to this difficult (and sensitive) question again during discussion of the relevant passages in that epistle.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

June 30: Acts 15:6-11; Gal 1:18; 2:1-11, etc

This is the second of three daily notes commemorating the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29). In the previous day’s note, I looked at several passages in the New Testament and early Christian writings which can be said to reflect opposition between Peter and Paul; today I will be examining passages which more properly represent Christian unity and harmony.

Peter and Paul as a symbol of Church Unity

To begin with, let me briefly summarize the New Testament passages which could reasonably be said to apply to the theme of unity and concord between Peter and Paul:

  • Acts 15:6-11—During the so-called Jerusalem “Council” (which Paul and Barnabas attended, cf. Gal 2:1-10), on the question of whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be part of the Christian Community, Peter affirms the ‘Pauline’ position in no uncertain terms. Note especially the statements in verse 9, that God did not distinguish at all between “us” and “them” (Jews and Gentiles), “cleansing their hearts by trust [i.e. faith]” (the same way); and also verse 11, emphasizing that it is through a gift (or grace) that “we trust to be saved” in the same manner that they (the Gentiles) do. In the earlier narratives in Acts (chapters 10-11), Peter had already been forced to grapple with the issue of the Gentiles coming to Christ (the Cornelius episode, cf. in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), a fact that he references to in vv. 7-8 here.
  • Galatians 1:18—Paul narrates that, several years following his conversion, he visited Jerusalem “to see” (i(storh=sai) Peter (Kefa, the original Aramaic translated by Pe/tro$/Peter, “Rock”). The verb i(store/w has the basic meaning “to gain knowledge/information” from someone; it can be used generally in the sense of “become acquainted with [i.e. get to know] someone”, but here we should probably understand that Paul visited Peter for the purpose of gaining information (such as Jesus traditions, i.e. sayings by the historical Jesus). We should probably infer this, in spite of Paul’s careful claim in v. 17 that he did not consult with anyone in Jerusalem prior to beginning his missionary work. Paul remained with Peter fifteen days, and the two men presumably would have formed some degree of mutual understanding and friendship as a result.
  • Galatians 2:1-10—Most scholars hold that Paul here is describing essentially the same Jerusalem meeting narrated in Acts 15 (above). Whether or not this is so, apparently the meeting ended with an agreement in place, recognizing that Paul was a legitimate missionary (apostle) to the Gentiles, just as Peter was for the Jews (v. 7-9). However, while the episode may have ended harmoniously, to some degree, there is considerable tension in the way Paul tells the story, especially the manner in which he repeatedly refers to the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (including James, Peter, and John) as “the ones thought/considered to be (something)” (cf. esp. verse 6)—on this, see the previous note.
  • Galatians 2:11-12—Even though Paul is describing opposition between himself and Peter in vv. 11-14ff, the context implies that previously they had been on good (or at least better) terms. Prior to the arrival of “men from James”, Peter, it would seem, had been spending time and working (harmoniously with Paul) among the Gentile believers in Antioch.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16—The author of the epistle (indicated as Peter, 1:1) refers to Paul as “our beloved brother”, mentioning his “wisdom” and the letters (epistles) which he has written (apparently regarding these as authoritative Scripture). However, it should be noted that many commentators (including most critical scholars) believe that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, having been written some time later, after Peter’s death. Even if one were to accept the critical view, it would still be an indication of Peter and Paul being brought together in a positive, unifying manner, in early tradition.

According to Christian tradition, Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome as martyrs for the faith. Their martyrdom is hinted at, though nowhere specified, in the New Testament—for Peter cf. John 21:18-19; for Paul cf. Acts 20:22-38; 2 Tim 4:6-8. As for the association with Rome, at the end of the book of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in the imperial city, though there is some evidence (in Scripture and tradition) that he may have been released (only to be arrested later a second time). According to 1 Pet 5:13, Peter would seem to be in “Babylon”, often thought to be a code (or cipher) in the New Testament for Rome and the Roman Empire. There is some question among scholars as to whether Peter actually was in Rome, but there can be no doubt that, by the late-first and early-second century, there was a well-established tradition associating both apostles with the imperial city. This is specified in Clement’s epistle (from the Roman church) to the Corinthians (1 Clement 5)—where mention is also made of their martyrdom—and in Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the church of Rome (Rom 4:3).

Eusebius, writing in the early 4th century, mentions Peter’s presence in Rome (Church History II.14-15) but gives us scant information about it; the tradition that he followed after Simon Magus is not especially reliable (see the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies for similar traditions, cf. the previous note). In II.25, Eusebius records that both Peter and Paul were put to death during the persecution of Christians under Nero—Paul having been beheaded, Peter crucified—though for earlier witnesses to this he cites only the presbyter Gaius (as to their memorials on the Ostian Way) and a letter from Dionysius bishop of Corinth (a general notice). In III.1, mention is made again of their martyrdom in Rome, along with the detail that Peter was crucified upside down at his own request. The Liberian catalog (list of Popes) from 354 A.D. records the deposition of the remains of Peter and Paul in the middle of the 3rd century.

Peter and Paul, joined together, proved to be a popular image of Christian unity and solidarity, especially within the Roman Catholic tradition. In Rome and its environs, a multitude of churches and monuments have been constructed over the centuries, most notably the great basilicas of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. Also in the visual arts of the Medieval and Renaissance period—in both Western and Eastern tradition—Petrine and Pauline images and themes often appear together. An especially noble and poignant motif is that of Peter and Paul standing together, or embracing, as below (and in the Note of the Day header above).

PeterPaul

Believers and the World (Jn 17:20-23, continued)

As a continuation (and conclusion) to the recently posted article, on the statements regarding believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$) in John 17:20-23, I mentioned three specific questions which I felt still needed to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

1. How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?

The principal theme of verses 20-23 is Jesus’ request for the unity of his disciples (believers). This is expressed two ways:

    • With the neuter singular adjective e%n (“one”): “that they would (all) be one
    • Using the preposition e)n (“in”): believers in the Son (and the Father), and the Son in believers, just as the Father and Son are in one another.

The use of the comparative particle kaqw/$ (“just as”), and the relation of believers to the union between Father and Son, makes clear that believers share in the same (not just similar) unity that Father and Son share. This is a powerful theological (and spiritual) proposition, which may seem quite shocking to religious sensibilities, but it is not to be explained away or mitigated. The language used by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) must be allowed to stand. And yet, how does this unity relate to “the world”? In the main part of this article, I discussed how the concluding i%na-clauses, mentioning “the world”, are best understood as subordinate result clauses. Let us consider again how these fit in the parallel strophes of verses 20-23:

First strophe, verses 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second strophe, vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

For ease of reference, here are the two clauses in context, with the immediate statement regarding unity in bold:

“…that they…would be in us, (so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth”
“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth”

How does the unity of believers lead the world (i.e. others in the world who are not yet believers) to trust and know (i.e. recognize) Jesus’ divine origin as Messiah and Son of God? Some would cite the example of Christian unity as something which might convince people of the truth of the Gospel. While this is a noble sentiment, it is not at all what is in view here in the Prayer. Rather, the unity of which Jesus speaks is fundamental and essential—the very identity of believers is defined by their/our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This union, indicated primarily by the preposition e)n (“in”, i.e. “in us”), is further defined three distinct ways in the Gospel of John; the divine Presence in believers is described in terms of: (1) Word [lo/go$], (2) Love [a)ga/ph], and (3) Spirit [pneu=ma]. It is the Word-Love-Spirit of God (and Christ), dwelling in and with believers, which brings others to trust and knowledge of the truth. This will be further discussed in the following two sections.

2. What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?

In the earlier notes on verses 20-23, I pointed out how the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”), in the passive, with believers as the subject, occurs only here in the Gospel of John, but that four similar instances are found in the First Letter (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). The passages in 1 John share much of the same thought, language, and vocabulary as the Prayer-Discourse of Jn 17. There, too, the unity believers share with Father and Son is defined in terms of love (cf. section 3 below). However, I believe there is one aspect of the use of the verb here in verse 23 which has not yet been explored, and it relates specifically to the statement regarding the world trusting/knowing. The unity of believers is only realized collectively, not individually—but as a universal Community, bound together by the living Word-Love-Spirit of God. To that extent, unity is not realized until all believers are included—that is, when all the Elect/Chosen ones, living throughout the world, in all times and places, come to trust in Jesus, becoming true believers in Christ. This is wonderfully expressed, though using different imagery, in the “Good Shepherd” discourse:

“And I hold other sheep, which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to bring them also, and they (too) will hear my voice, and they will be a single herd [poimnh/], (with) one herder [poimh/n].” (10:16)

It must be emphasized that, though believers may gather (physically) into local communities, the unity spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John is entirely spiritual—it is truly a universal Community, realized and possible only by and through the presence of the Spirit. It is no coincidence that the giving of the Spirit follows almost directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus (20:21ff), and that this is indicated symbolically in the narrative at the moment of Jesus’ death (19:30):

    • His dying word on the cross: tete/lestai (“it is completed“, vb. tele/w closely related to teleio/w), after which
    • “…he gave along the Spirit” (pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma)

3. How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

Verses 20-23 conclude with a statement that defines unity in terms of love (a)ga/ph)—that is to say, divine love, the love of God, which believers share by way of our union with Christ. This divine love cannot be separated (as an attribute) from the very Presence of God Himself, which believers are joined with by way of the Person of Jesus, through the Spirit. As mentioned above, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, Word, Love and Spirit, are largely synonymous, all three representing the living presence of God the Father and Jesus (the Son). This special meaning of a)ga/ph is seen throughout the Gospel, but especially in the Last Discourse (5:42; 8:42; 13:34-35; 14:15, 21ff; 15:9-13, 17, 19). It is even more prominent in the Letters (42 times, including 36 in 1 John). In 4:8, God Himself is identified as Love, and I mentioned above how believers being “made complete” is understood in terms of this love (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). In many ways, the First Letter takes up where the Last Discourse leaves off, both serving as detailed expositions of the “love commandment” in 13:34-35. The wording in 17:23 summarizes this exposition, but from the standpoint of the Father’s relationship to believers: “you loved them just as you loved me”.

However, according to the syntax of vv. 22-23, this statement is part of the i%na-clause which mentions the world knowing:

“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth, and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

The statement of God’s love is part of what the world comes to know:

    • “(so) that the world would know
      • that you sent me forth
      • and (that) you loved them even as you loved me”

Some commentators have struggled with the pronoun “them”, pointing out that, in context, it must refer to the believers (“the ones trusting in me…”) of v. 20, rather than to the immediate subject “the world”. However, according to the interpretation I set forth (cf. the main discussion), here “the world” refers ostensibly to believers—i.e. the Elect/Chosen ones, in the world, who have not yet become believers. This renders the immediate syntax more intelligible: those “in the world” who come to be believers realize the love God the Father has for them, a love that is identified in the person of his Son (Jesus). The wonderful reciprocity that defines both the unity and love which we share, as believers, and expressed here, is supplemented by Jesus’ earlier statement in 14:31:

“…(so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and even as the Father placed (a duty) on me to complete, so I do (it).”

Here the idea of believers “in the world” is less in view; the focus is rather on Jesus’ impending sacrificial death, and the time of darkness which accompanies it. The statement in v. 31 is preceded by an ominous declaration that “the chief/ruler of the world comes”, along with a message of encouragement that “he holds nothing on/in me”. That last phrase could mean “he has no part in me”, or “he holds nothing on me” in the sense of having “no power over me”; probably the latter is intended. In any event, the wording of v. 31a is quite similar to that of the closing words of 17:23—the former mentions Jesus’ love for the Father, the latter the Father’s love for Jesus. The world—everyone in it, not just the elect/believers—can recognize in Jesus’ death his great love for God.

It is the “love commandment” in 13:34-35 which relates more directly to the statement in 17:23:

“A new duty I give to you to complete: that you love each another—just as I loved you, that also you would love each other. In this, all people will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples], if you hold love among [lit. in/on, e)n] each other.”

There is a similar matrix of thought and language, including the idea that people in the world will know as a result of the unifying love which believers share. Here the sense of believers as an example to the world is more plausible; yet, the emphasis is still squarely on believers and their relationship to Jesus.

If we consider the statements in 13:34-35, 14:31, and 17:23 in sequence, representing a kind of development of thought, it seems to parallel Christian ministry itself:

  • 13:34-35—Believers as ministers, representatives of Christ, in the world
    • Love—We are to love each other according to the example of Jesus (“just as” [kaqw/$] he loved us); his sacrificial death is implicit and fundamental to this love.
    • World’s Response—”All people” recognize this love as a sign that believers are disciples of Jesus, i.e. that they are Christians
  • 14:31—The Gospel message believers proclaim in the world is centered on the sacrificial death of Jesus, which frees us from the power of the world (“ruler of the world”, v. 30)
    • Love—Jesus’ love is embodied in his sacrificial death, and demonstrates his love for God the Father
    • World’s Response—Those in the world, both the Elect and non-elect, can recognize Jesus’ love for God in his sacrificial death
  • 17:23—Believers proclaim the Gospel (the Word), being guided and empowered by the living Word (the Spirit) which unites us with God the Father and Jesus (the Son)
    • Love—As believers we share (“even as” [kaqw/$]) in the same Love which God the Father has for Jesus (the Son); it is not just an attribute of God, but the Presence of God Himself.
    • World’s Response—The Elect/Chosen ones in the world come to know that Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father, and recognize the love which God has for them, uniting them with all other believers.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:20-23

John 17:20-23

As discussed previously in these notes on the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, verses 12-26 provide an exposition of the central petition of vv. 9-11. As in the Discourses proper, Jesus explains the true meaning of his words; in this regard, the situation is much like that of the prayer at the tomb of the Lazarus in 11:41-42—it is intended as much or more for the benefit of those around him (the disciples/believers) than it is for God the Father whom he addresses. Verses 12-19, discussed in the prior studies, comprise the first section of the exposition, verse 20-26 the second. The petition in vv. 9ff is for the needs of believers; in vv. 12-19, the focus is on Jesus’ immediate disciples (the Twelve, etc), while in vv. 20-26 the viewpoint widens out to encompass all believers everywhere. This is clear from the way the language in verse 9 is repeated, essentially restating the petition:

“And (yet) I do not ask about these only, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word [lo/go$]…”

The wording sharpens an important theme running through the Last Discourse: that of the disciples serving as witnesses of Jesus after he has departed to the Father. Verse 18, with its reference to the disciples as apostles—i.e. ones sent out from Jesus into the world—anticipates the post-resurrection commission in 20:21-23. Yet here, the emphasis is not on the work of the disciples, but on those who come to trust in Jesus through their work. In this regard, verses 20-23 serve as an expository refrain to the Prayer, moving from Jesus’ circle of disciples to the wider sphere of believers the world over. The parallelism in these verses is striking, and must be examined carefully; indeed, we have here two strophes that are nearly identical, following a precise pattern:

    • Initial statement regarding believers
      • i%na clause—that they (all) may be one
      • comparative kaqw/$ clause, relating their unity to that shared by Father and Son
      • i%na clause—that they may share the same (kind of) unity
        • concluding i%na (result) clause—believers’ witness to the world

Let us consider each strophe—first, vv. 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second, the following vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

It will be most useful, I think, to take each corresponding pair of lines, from each strophe, and examine them together in turn.

With regard to the initial statement regarding believers, the first (v. 20) identifies believers as those trusting in Jesus through the intermediary work of the disciples (i.e. other believers) proclaiming the Gospel message about him. The second statement (v. 22a), I would suggest, characterizes the essential identity of the believer: one who shares in the honor/glory (do/ca) of God the Father and Jesus Christ (the Son). This divine honor/glory is not realized individually, but collectively, for believers as a whole. This will be discussed further when we come to verse 24. The Prayer-Discourse began with this idea of honor/glory (do/ca), in vv. 1ff, and has continued as a theme throughout (vv. 10, 17-18, 22ff). There can be little doubt that Jesus is here speaking of the same divine/eternal do/ca mentioned in vv. 5 and 10, however shocking that might seem to religious sensibilities. He states unequivocally that he has given this same do/ca to believers; and, it must be understood as the sign and basis of the unity we have with Father and Son (and with each other). This point will be expounded further by Jesus in vv. 24-26.

Now, for each of the i%na/kaqw/$ clause pairs:

  1. “that (they) all would be one” [i%na pa/nte$ e^n w@sin] (v. 21a)
    “that they would be one” [i%na w@sin e^n] (v. 22b)

These two statements are virtually identical, really only differing by the inclusion of “all” (pa/nte$) in the first statement, a distinction which certainly applies to the second as well. It emphasizes that Jesus’ prayer relates to all believers, everywhere. At other points in the Gospel we find a definite awareness of this universal outlook (1:12-13; 3:14-15ff; 6:44-45ff; 10:16; 11:25-26; 12:32, 46ff; 18:37; 20:29, 31, etc). The repeated use of the neuter e%n (“one”) emphasizes that believers should be understood collectively—i.e. as a universal community. It is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word dh^y~, used as an identifying self-designation by the Community of the Qumran texts; the same language was almost certainly applied by early Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking Christians as well (cf. Acts 2:42, etc).

  1. “just as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you” [kaqw\$ su/ path/r e)n e)moi\ ka)gw\ e)n soi/] (v. 21b)
    “just as we are one—I in them and you in me” [kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n emoi/] (v. 22c-23a)

These are two distinct, but closely related statements; in several important respects the meaning is the same:

    • The unity of believers is patterned after the unity shared by God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son); this is the force of the particle kaqw/$ (“just as, even as”)
    • However, this unity is not just similar to the divine unity, it is fundamentally the same—it is based upon the unity of Father and Son and derives from it
    • The basis of this divine unity, in which believers share, is the joint/reciprocal relationship of being “in” (e)n) one another.

This unity is presented here in two aspects:

    • Horizontal (reciprocal)—equally between Father and Son (and, in turn, with believers): “you in me, and I in you”
    • Vertical (hierarchical)—from Father to Son to believers: “I in them and you in me”

Ultimately, for believers, the first aspect is dependent upon the second; that is to say, we share in the unity between Father and Son through our relationship to the Son. Though it is not stated here, this relationship with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

  1. “that they also would be in us” [i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n h(mi=n w@sin] (v. 21c)
    “that they would be completed into one” [i%na w@sin teteleiwme/noi ei)$ e%n] (v. 23b)

Here the point made above—that unity is based on being “in” the Father and Son—is beautifully set in parallel: “in us” and “completed into one” are synonymous. For the sake of simplicity, my translation of the second phrase, though generally literal in rendering, has somewhat obscured the force of the perfect participle teteleiwme/noi. This would more accurately be translated “(one)s having been completed” or “(one)s having been made complete”. In other words, the participle characterizes believers. This verb (teleio/w, “[make] complete”) is closely related to tele/w (“complete”), and both verbs together have a special theological significance in the Johannine writings. In the Gospel, they refer to Jesus (the Son) completing the work, or mission, for which the Father sent him to earth (4:34; 5:36). We saw that Jesus used the verb teleio/w earlier in the Prayer (v. 4); the Passion setting makes clear that this completed work is to culminate with his sacrificial death (19:28), being fulfilled in his final word on the cross: “it is completed” [tete/lestai, vb tele/w] (v. 30).

However, here the verb teleio/w, in the passive, is used of believers. The parallel for this usage is found in the First Letter of John, and these references must be consulted to understand its meaning here:

“but, whoever would keep watch (over) his word [lo/go$], in this (person) the love of God has been made complete [tetelei/wtai], (and) in this we know that we are in him [e)n au)tw=| e)smen]” (2:5)

“No one has ever looked (upon) God. (But) if we love (each) other, (then) God remains [i.e. dwells] in us, and his love is made complete [teteleiwme/nh] in us.” (4:12)
“In this [e)n tou/tw|], love has been completed [tetelei/wtai] with us…that just as [kaqw/$] that (one) [i.e. the Son/Jesus] is [e)stin], (so) also we are [e)smen] in this world. There is no fear in love, but the love (that is) complete [telei/a] throws fear (out)…and the (one) fearing has not been made complete [tetelei/wtai] in love.” (4:17-18)

Even a casual reading, in translation, should make clear how similar the thought and language is to that of the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus. Here the completion/completeness of believers is marked by the presence of God’s love (a)ga/ph) in them. That is certainly an important motif in the Gospel Discourses as well; in fact, it is one of the key themes that opens the Last Discourse (13:34-35), running all the way through it, to the end of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 24-26, to be discussed in next week’s study). There is, in these passages from 1 John, a close connection between the verb teleio/w and the idea of the unity of believers that is based on the presence of God (and Christ) in us. This is precisely what we find here in vv. 21, 23 of the Prayer. Believers are made complete through their/our union with the Son, the presence of whom is variously defined in terms of (a) Word [lo/go$], (b) Love, but ultimately as (c) the Spirit.

However, this is not the full extent of the meaning of the verb teleio/w in this passage; there is an important aspect yet to be addressed, which requires study of the final (concluding) phrases of each strophe.

  1. “(so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth” [i%na o( ko/smo$ pisteu/h| o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$] (v. 21d)
    “(so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth…” [i%na ginw/skh| o( ko/smo$ o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$]
    “…(and) that you loved them just as you loved me.” (v. 23c-d)

The references here to the “world” (ko/smo$) are complex and carry a special significance within the theological setting of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus. A proper understanding of it requires an extended discussion, which I will be giving in a supplemental article.

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

The term “Orthodoxy” can be defined, more or less accurately, as “right/correct opinion”. The verb o)rqodoce/w (orthodoxéœ) is relatively rare (but can be found in Aristotle, Nic. Ethics 1151a.19), from o)rqodo/co$ (orthodóxos, also rare). Neither word occurs in the earliest Christian writings (New Testament and Apostolic Fathers, etc); in fact, even the underlying component words are relatively rare in the New Testament:

    • The adjective o)rqo/$ (orthós, “straight, [up]right”) and the related adverb o)rqw=$ (orthœ¡s, “straightforward, rightly, plainly”) are used only 6 times combined, and in the sense of a “right/correct” saying/opinion only in Lk 7:43; 10:28; 20:21. Heb 12:13 uses the adjective according to the Hebrew idiom of making one’s paths “straight” (in the religious/ethical sense of “walking straight”), and note the similar compound verb o)rqopode/w (orthopodéœ, “set foot [i.e. walk] straight/right”) in Gal 2:14, as well as o)rqotome/w (orthotoméœ, “cut right/straight”) in 2 Tim 2:15 as a reference to correct teaching. Both noun and adjective are used more commonly for “right/straight” teaching and Christian ministry in the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius Eph 1:1; Herm Sim 2:7; Diognetus 11:2, etc) and e.g. Justin Martyr (1 Apol 4:8; 2 Apol 2:2; Dialogue with Trypho 3:3; 5:2; 67:4, etc).
    • The noun do/ca (dóxa) is derived from the verb doke/w (dokéœ), which itself has a fairly wide range of meaning, “think, suppose, imagine, consider, recognize” and, more abstractly, “seem (to be)”. So, the noun do/ca primarily means “thought, opinion”, but in the more specialized sense of “consideration, recognition”, etc., it came to be used regularly for the “esteem, reputation,” etc. with which one considers someone/something, and so more specifically for “honor, glory”, etc. It is almost always in this latter sense that the noun and related verb doca/zw (doxázœ, “esteem, honor, give glory/glorify”) are used in the New Testament. However, the verb doke/w occurs more frequently in the ordinary sense of “think, suppose, consider”.

By the end of the first century, and in what are usually considered the latest (anywhere between c. 65-100 A.D.) New Testament writings, there came to be a greater emphasis upon safeguarding “correct” teaching and tradition against ‘false teachers’ and opponents, as can be seen vividly in the Pastoral epistles (esp. 1 Timothy), 2 Peter, Jude, and the epistles of John (note esp. the strident partisan identifications and credal tests in 1 John). As Christianity continued to develop over the next two centuries, a greater number of divergent beliefs and sects arose often with contrasting (or contradictory) and competing viewpoints, ranging from fundamental issues of cosmology and theology (such as the nature of God and the person of Christ) to specific details of Church practice (such as the dating/celebration of Easter). Church leaders and theologians of various stripes sought to defend the “correct” position, usually on the basis of: (1) interpretation of Scripture, and (2) the reliability of inherited tradition. This multifaceted (historical) Christianity is normally described, in relation to orthodoxy (“correct belief/thought/opinion”), by one of two terms—”heterodoxy” or “heresy”.

Heterodoxy simply means “other thought/belief/opinion”, and today is typically used to reflect the (apparent) diversity of belief and practice, especially in the first three centuries of the Church, in contrast to Christianity as the established religion of the Roman Empire (both in the West and Byzantine East), from the early-mid 4th century through the end of the Middle Ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a different, but related sort of Protestant “Orthodoxy” developed (mainly that of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches), which extends, at least formally and in theory, among (most) Protestants to the present day. The term heresy has a far more negative (and odious) connotation, and, for that reason (as well as its history of spiteful application), is avoided (and/or used with great caution) by thoughtful Christians today. It is a transliteration in English of the Greek ai%resi$ (haíresis), derived from the verb ai(re/w/ai(re/omai, “take, choose, select (for oneself)”, and fundamentally means “something chosen/taken”, as, for example, a (religious) way of life, a partisan or communal affiliation, a belief, and so forth. The word is used in the New Testament in Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22; 1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20; 2 Peter 2:1. The related noun ai(retiko/$ (hairetikós) generally means “one who takes/choose, is capable of choosing,” etc.; it is used in a negative (partisan) religious sense in Titus 3:10, a meaning preserved in English by the word “heretic”, i.e. one who has chosen the wrong religious belief, affiliation, etc.

What is the basis for establishing “orthodoxy” over and against either “heterodoxy” (diversity of beliefs/practices) or “heresy” (choice of the wrong belief, etc)? Historically this has been both defined and recognized according to a number of standards or factors, such as:

    • Teaching and/or edicts by influential or authoritative persons
    • Consensus forged through argument and debate over time (as in various Church councils, etc)
    • Interpretation of the authoritative (and formative) religious texts (Scriptures)
    • Acceptance/adoption of (written) formulas of belief (i.e. Creeds and Confessions of Faith)
    • Isolation/emphasis on what the majority of believers hold in common (fundamental and/or ecumenical principle[s])
    • A defining (hierarchic) organizational structure

For many Christians, including the majority of Protestants, the belief, variously expressed, is that the canonical Scriptures should be the ideal for establishing “orthodoxy”, as in the Reformation slogan sola Scriptura—Scripture alone as the authority of religious faith and practice. Unfortunately, this ideal is greatly complicated by the differences of interpretation which attend many key passages; there are many other profound difficulties as well, such as the weight and force given to one passage over another, the relation of the Old and New Testaments, whether a teaching is culturally conditioned or meant to be applied to all believers through history, and so forth. A much simpler (and popular) approach toward establishing “orthodoxy” is the adoption of written creeds—statements of belief (credo, “I believe…”), whether in the form of a Confession of Faith or a Catechism for instruction of new believers. And yet, here again there is great difficulty, for history has proven (rather decisively) that the establishment of each new creed, however well intentioned, is likely to result in at least as much (or more) division than unity among believers. This is especially true the more detailed and extensive the creed is; the best creeds tend to be those which are the simplest, such as the so-called Apostles’ Creed, and which clearly evince an irenic and peace-loving spirit. Among the many Protestant creeds, the most beloved and widely accepted are the Augsburg Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, both largely free of the worst and most destructive polemical characteristics of the period. A faithful and effective creed (in the best Christian sense) ought to be limited to as few “essential” points of doctrine as possible, allowing freedom for discussion and debate on more difficult or controversial matters. As Church historian Philip Schaff has put it well: “a surplus of orthodoxy provokes skepticism”; to which I would add that it (unnecessarily) promotes and instigates division as well.

From the standpoint of the New Testament, of course, the ideal of Church unity is found in the presence of the Spirit at work in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers—uniting us to God (and Christ) as well as to one another. And, while this is true enough—and ought to be the goal and focus of faithful believers around the world—it is, admittedly, more readily expressed at the level of the intimate relationship between individual believers (“where two or three are gathered”); within a larger corporate or institutional setting it is much more difficult to realize.

Jerusalem and the Unity of Believers (part 3)

In the previous day’s note, I examined the theme of the unity of the believers in Jerusalem in the early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7); in so doing, I specifically discussed the first of two words or phrases used repeatedly by the author to express this sense of unity—e)pi\ to\ au)to/. Today I will be looking at the second expression—o(moqumado/n.

2. o(moqumado/n (homothymadón)

With one exception (Romans 15:6), all New Testament occurrences of this adverb are in the book of Acts. It is a compound derived from o(mo/$ (homós, “one”) and qu/mo$ (thýmos). This noun (qu/mo$, from qu/w) fundamentally refers to a violent movement (i.e. of wind, breath, etc), and so, for human beings, often the sense of “spirit, passion, anger”, and so forth. It would come to carry the more general anthropological semantic range of “soul, mind, will, disposition, temperment”, etc. as well. The adverb o(moqumado/n is typically translated as “of one mind/will/consent”, and so forth; a more literal rendering might be “of one impulse”, which I have chosen to use below. Here are the passages where this word is used in the book of Acts (note the proximity/pairing with the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/):

  • Acts 1:14: “These [i.e. the apostles mentioned in v. 13] all were being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse (in) speaking toward (God) [i.e. prayer], (together) with (the) women and Maryam the mother of Jesus and his brothers.”
    • V. 15—e)pi\ to\ au)to/, in context of the ~120 (12 x 10) disciples mentioned parenthetically
  • Acts 2:46: “According to (the) day [i.e. daily], being strong/steadfast toward (each other) with one impulse in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], breaking bread according to (the) house, they took/received meat with (each other) in joyfulness and smoothness/simplicity [lit. without a stone/pebble] of heart.”
    • V. 44, 47—two instances of e)pi\ to/ au)to/: the first, a reference to the believers being/living together and holding all things in common; the second, a climactic reference to the community of believers, which was being added to (with new members/converts) each day.
  • Acts 4:24: “And the (believer)s having heard, with one impulse (they) took up voice toward God and said…”—in response to the arrest, and subsequent release, of Peter and John narrated in 4:1-22.
    • V. 26—e)pi\ to/ au)to/ cited from Psalm 2:2, referring to the opposite of Christian unity: earthly rulers come/join together against God and His Anointed (Christ).
  • Acts 5:12: “…and they were all (together) of one impulse in the pillared (porch) of Shelomoh [Solomon]”—a notice following the response to “signs and wonders” which occurred “through the hands of the apostles”.
  • Acts 7:57: “and crying (out) with a great voice, they pressed together [i.e. shut] their ears and rushed (together) with one impulse upon him…”—referring the the angry mob that attacks Stephen following his speech (7:2-53) and visionary claim (v. 55-56).
  • Acts 8:6: “and the crowds had (care) toward the (things) related under [i.e. by] Philip, with one impulse, in their hearing and seeing the signs which he did”—here, no doubt, the gentler “of/with one mind” would be a bit more appropriate.
  • Acts 12:20: Here o(moqumado/n is used in a political/diplomatic sense, of the representatives of Tyre and Sidon who came to Herod “of/with one mind/impulse” to seek peace.
  • Acts 15:25: “It seemed (good) to us, (having) come to be of one mind/impulse, to send toward you men gathered out [i.e. chosen] (along) with our beloved Paulus and Bar-Nabas”—part of the letter from the Jerusalem church in 15:22-29.
  • Acts 18:12: “…the Yehudeans [i.e. Jews] with one impulse stood against Paulus and led him upon the step (of judgment)”—o(moqumado/n in a hostile, anti-Christian sense, as in 7:57.
  • Acts 19:29: “and the city was filled with (people) poured-together [i.e. confusion], and they rushed (angrily) with one impulse into the show-place [i.e. theatre]…”—another instance of hostile usage.

The only other New Testament use of the word is in Romans 15:6:

5And (may) the God of remaining-under [i.e. patience/endurance] and calling-alongside [i.e. help/comfort] give to you the self(-same) thinking [i.e. to be of the same mind] in/among one another, according to (the) Anointed Yeshua, 6(so) that of one impulse in/with (a) single mouth you might give honor/esteem to [i.e. glorify] the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.

Here unity is clearly connected to our relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, and manifest in terms of confession and worship. Yet, the dynamic quality of this relationship—such as in the basic, elemental sense which underlies qumo$/o(moqumadon—remains. The New Testament usage, summarized above, can be clarified further into two different primary aspects:

    1. Acts of fervent, communal worship—positive, applied to the early believers
    2. Description of a agitated crowd pressed together and rushing to action—mainly negative, applied to opponents/enemies of Christ

This very much demonstrates the two sides of unity experienced by the early Church, and, indeed, by faithful believers throughout history.

(This article is part of the periodic series Jews & Gentiles and the People of God.)

Jerusalem and the Unity of Believers (part 2)

An important theme of the early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) is the unity of believers. This is described in a sequence of introductory/summary passages which punctuate the narratives in these chapters. The main references are:

    • Acts 1:14, part of a transitional passage (vv. 12-14) that follows the Ascension narrative (vv. 6-11).
    • Acts 1:15-26, an introductory, pattern-setting narrative which details the ‘reconstitution’ of the Twelve apostles, and containing a speech by Peter.
    • Acts 2:1, introduction to the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13).
    • Acts 2:42-47, a summary/transitional passage following Pentecost speech by Peter (vv. 14-40).
    • Acts 4:23-31, a narrative which runs, in many ways, parallel to that of 1:15-26, confirming the mission of the apostles and other believers.
    • Acts 4:32-37, a summary/transitional passage, which also serves to introduce the Ananias/Sapphira narrative (5:1-11).
    • Acts 5:42, summary verse to the narrative in 5:17-41 (for similar summary verses, see 2:41, 47b; 4:31[b]; 6:7).
    • Acts 6:1-6, a short narrative describing the first challenge to unity among the Jerusalem believers (note also the summary in v. 7).

It is only after the death of Stephen, and the onset of persecution (8:1-4, cf. also 11:19), that the (local/geographical) unity of the believers is broken—ironically, the dispersion/scattering (8:4) served to inaugurate the early Christian mission to the wider world outside of Jerusalem and Judea. Here are some key points in the descriptions of unity surveyed above:

    • They were devoted to prayer (1:14; 2:42; 4:31) and the teaching of the apostles (2:42; 6:4)
    • They were gathered together as a group/community in one location, which might vary “house to house” (2:1, 46; 4:31)—2:44 may also indicate some form of communal living (such as associated with the community of the Qumran texts)
    • They came together for the “breaking of bread”—common meals and/or eucharistic celebration (2:42)
    • They frequently gathered and attended in the Temple (Lk 24:53; 2:46, cf. also 3:1)
    • They held all things in common, selling possessions and providing for believers who were in need (2:44-45; 4:32, 34-37; 6:1)

There are, in particular, two expressions employed by the author of Acts to emphasize the unity of these early believers—e)pi\ to\ au)to/ and o(moqumado/n.

1. e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (epì tò autó)

This is a relatively common Greek idiom which the author of Acts (trad. Luke) uses in a distinctive manner. It is actually rather difficult to translate literally in English; the closest perhaps would be “upon the same (thing/place)”. In conventional English, it is typically rendered as “together”, in either: (a) a spatial-geographic sense [“in the same place”], (b) in terms of common identity [“for the same cause/purpose etc”], or (c) in the more generic sense of being gathered/grouped together. Where the expression occurs in the LXX, the generic or spatial sense is most likely meant (cf. Exod 26:9; Deut 12:15; 2 Sam 2:13; Ps 4:8[9]; Isa 66:17; Hos 1:11 [LXX 2:2]); a possible exception is the usage in Psalm 2:2, which would probably have been the reference most familiar to many early Christians (cf. Acts 4:25f). The expression also is used elsewhere in the New Testament in a similar manner, in Matt 22:34; Lk 17:35; 1 Cor 7:5; 11:20; 14:23; the last two references in Corinthians provide the closest context to the usage in Acts.

It is perhaps possible to trace a progression, of sorts, in the occurrences of the expression in the book of Acts:

  • Acts 1:15—here, in a parenthetical statement on the number of early believers gathered in Jerusalem, the expression is certainly used in a simple generic sense. However, the notice of the specific number—120—almost certainly is significant in relation to the symbolism of the disciples (the 12 apostles and 12 x 10) as a fulfillment/restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • Acts 2:1—here either the generic or spatial sense is primarily meant; the combined usage with the adverb o(mou= perhaps indicates the latter.
  • Acts 2:44—probably the spatial/geographic sense is meant here, i.e. the believers were living together (in the same place). To some degree, the communal life is implied, to which (by, for example, holding all possessions in common) is also attached or included a unity of purpose.
  • Acts 2:47b—this is the most difficult reference: “and the Lord set toward [i.e. added to] the (one)s being saved according to (the) day [i.e. daily] e)pi\ to\ au)to/“. The culminating expression is extremely difficult to translate accurately in context. Possibly it has the sense of “all together”, but clearly something more than simple grouping/gathering together is meant. The climactic and emphatic position of the expression suggests a deeper unity of identity and/or purpose is implied. New believers become part of the overall community, which, for the moment is spatially united (in Jerusalem and living/worshiping communally), but soon will be scattered (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19) into the wider mission field.
  • Acts 4:26—this use of the expression comes from a citation of Psalm 2:2 (mentioned above); the context is of earthly rulers taking counsel together (LXX “are led/brought together”) for a definite purpose and with hostile intent (“against the Lord [YHWH] and against his Anointed”). The expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ translates Hebrew adverb dj^y~ yaµad, “as one, in union, together”. This is the opposite of the unity of early Christians; it is anti-Christian (i.e. unity against Christ), the joining together of enemies/opponents of Christ. The transitional narrative of Acts 4:23-31 reflects the prior arrest/interrogation of the leading apostles (in chapters 3-4) and foreshadows the challenges to unity recorded in chapters 5-6. As previously mentioned, with the execution of Stephen, and the onset of more intense persecution, hostility of enemies will break the spatial unity of believers; however, as 4:23-31 makes clear, the unity of purpose and identity remains unbroken. Perhaps it would be better to speak of unity of spirit (or Spirit), though this transcends ultimately the simple expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/.

It remains to look at the second expression for unity (o(moqumado/n), which I will do in the next day’s note.

(This article is part of the periodic series Jews & Gentiles and the People of God.)